Sunday, November 19, 2017
News Roundup

Historical Society scrambles to reprint naturalist's book about early Dunedin life

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DUNEDIN — Beetles and crickets. Streets lined with wooden planks and sand. A Native American burial mound.

Sounds like a game where you identify which item doesn't belong, right? Wrong. These were all sights common in Dunedin during the early 1900s.

The Dunedin Historical Society wants to make sure that history is preserved by reprinting My Nature Nook by renowned naturalist Dr. Willis Stanley Blatchley. The book was named for a viewing platform built in an old live oak tree on Blatchley's Dunedin waterfront property. He sat in the nook and recorded his daily observations.

The historical society decided to reprint the book after a feverish 18-month search by members turned up only a single copy to add to the society's handful of originals.

"This is the only personal narrative in diary form of life in Dunedin in the early 1900s," said George Nigro, a Dunedin Historical Society board member and project manager. "It deserves to be saved from the dustbins of history."

My Nature Nook is one of more than a dozen books written by Blatchley, a former Indiana geologist and snowbird who in 1913 started documenting events, sights and sounds he encountered during 18 winters here.

Among the most interesting entries, Nigro said:

•Blatchley, skeptical of reports that hurricanes never hit Dunedin, devised a special design for support beams on his Bayshore Boulevard home, which was outside the city limits at the time.

"It was constructed so well that it actually survived the hurricanes of 1921 and 1924, one of which actually severed Caladesi Island in two," Nigro said. The house is still standing in what's now known as Weaver Park.

•When Blatchley arrived in 1913, he said the streets were covered with sand and wooden planks. The city had 1,700 residents compared to about 35,000 today.

•While the exact location of an Indian burial mound Blatchley described is unknown, historians believe it was situated within the present-day Dunedin Isles subdivision. "Somebody's house is probably sitting on top of it today," Nigro said.

To fund the effort, the cash-strapped historical society is offering 150 donors who contribute at either the $1,000 patron level or the $250 sponsor level a sequentially-numbered, leather-bound copy with his or her name inscribed inside. About 120 of the limited-edition copies remain available for purchase, Nigro said.

Others can call or visit the museum to preorder hardcover copies for $100 or paperback copies for $25.

The books will be unveiled for pickup and sale during a ceremony at the Dunedin Public Library Sunday. The event will feature a presentation on Blatchley's life, an interview with Dunedin Vice Mayor and Blatchley impersonator Ron Barnette, and a talk about the reprinting project.

The City Commission last month unanimously approved dedicating $1,000 of the commission budget to a patron-level contribution. The city will receive Book No. 1, which City Manager Rob DiSpirito said will be available to the public at the library.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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